Our Dark Lies

Olyxe “Ash” Heregale is not to be messed with. She lives for violence, laughs in the face of danger. She’s driven by a rage so bright and fierce, it’s not wonder she does so many stupid things.

Freeing the prisoners of Isolation, a place haunted by living and dead alike, perhaps the most stupid of all.

With a handful of people like her, Cursed and misfits, she will either change Haven forever or bring the demise of all her kind.

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Author's note

I don’t really know what genre this fits in. It’s a bit sci-fi, with a good dose of dystopia and apocalyptic, and intermingled fantasy and supernatural. Also, a healthy amount of violence and strong women beating up bad people.
AA

19. Search

Chapter XVIII

~ Search ~

“fear is the maker of hatred.”

 

 

When I breach the surface, it’s with a startled gasp and resonating trill of fear. My dream is quickly fading from memory, but it’s haunting message remains clear. No matter how hard I attempt to will away the tremors of fear wracking my body, they remain. Like the last cobwebs of sleep, clinging to me and suspending everything in a dreary haze. Slowly, the tremors lose their severity until I’m still, sitting on the floor and hugging my knees tightly enough to my chest to be uncomfortable. 

Through the wide open space where my door used to be, I can see that it is still dark out. The lights are but faintly glowing embers, pulsating like dying stars. I vaguely recall the stories my mother used to tell me, about the glittering gems in the sky and the ball of fire. 

Of course, she’d never seen either of those, only heard about them from records she obtained which were dated to the Topside era. My images of what the sky looked like are simply my interpretation of her interpretation, and I doubt either of us could truly capture the Topside to any likeness. I can only picture clearly it, but only after it was ruined, a land of ash and dust, with embers still burning and massive plumes of smoke choking out all light. I can’t imagine the emerald ground or sapphire skies to any clarity, only vague smudges of blue and green. 

I cough, choking on the musty, stale air. My mother once said the air on the Topside never carried subtle wafts of decay or dust, that it was clear and crisp. Up until we pumped it full of poison, and everything the human race had ever known has become a toxic wasteland. Then, death became the only certainty. The smell of rot became to only constant. 

No historians know the exact origin of Haven. Personally, I don’t think that anyone cares. In the end, how we ended up here doesn’t matter, only where we’re going in the future. It was something my mother always said, the journey we took is no longer relevant, the one we are about to embark on deserves our full attention. 

I jolt out of my philosophical daze rather suddenly, my thoughts abruptly hitting a dead-end like a fire running out of fuel to burn, only for me to enter a different hazy state of mind. Instead off wandering thoughts, my brain abruptly stills, suspended in a swampy fog. Unfurling in a fashion similar to an eruption of smoke, I rise up off the floor and begin to pace. There’s a million things which are deserving of my attention, but I can’t focus. So I pace, walking the short distance from one wall to another until I worry my feet must have worn a trench into the ground. 

When my mind finally rouses itself, my thoughts immediately fling themselves to Tenjey. Anxiety gnaws away at my innards. Haven is gargantuan tangle of souls, and there’s a million places hers could be, but at the same time there’s only a small handful of locations where she feels comfortable. This isn’t the first time I haven’t been able to find her. Regardlessly, dread winds itself tight around my chest, rendering it harder and harder to breathe. 

The darkness taunts me. I cannot go out and search for Tenjey now, not because of the dangers lurking in the shadows, but because she’s likely found someone to spend the night with and I have no chance of finding her. 

There is something I can do, though. I need to know where to find the people I need to get out of Isolation, or else I risk getting lost within the labyrinth. 

Peron should know how to find them. He is a Street Patroller, and he would be relatively easy to blackmail. If he doesn’t tell me where to find my friends, I can threaten to rat him out as Cursed. He would lose his job, and likely be sent to Isolation for some reason or another. Even if he was allowed to continue his existence within the cavern of Haven, it wouldn’t be the same. He would be treated with disgust and apprehension for the first time in his life, and he very well knows that those are the consequences. Every Cursed does. Everyone unfortunate enough to be born like me, like Tenjey, like Peron or Ridser or even Camisa are aware of everything they risk simply by existing. It’s not a fair way to live, but it’s how Haven is structured. The human, the untainted, are always on top, and it cannot be changed by those on the bottom. 

A plan slowly starts to form in my head, and I grab a cloak before swooping out the door. The long sheathe of lace and leather fall dramatically to the mid part of my thighs, the hood pulled up around my head so that barely any of my hair is visible. I rarely wear the cloak, as it is heavy and slows me down, but this is an unusual exception. It will provide an ample disguise, and allow me to easily blend with the shadows. Plus, it makes me appear dark and mysterious, like a spirit drawn from darkness. 

Barely a second glance is tossed my way as I walk, setting a slow pace. The clinking of chains on my boots is the only sound, my footfalls themselves silent. Even with the constant rattling, I’m hardly registered by the drunks and crazies out wandering the streets in plain darkness. 

Finding Peron gives me something to occupy myself with, a way to keep my mind distracted, but it’s far from easy. Navigating the streets with hardly any light to see by is nearly impossible, and to make matters worse I only have a vague idea of where I should find him. 

The entirety of my feet slowly start to ache before I even breach the edge Peron’s neighbourhood. Stupidly, I quicken my pace, the rows of ruddy houses tantalizingly close. A catch a glimpse of a Street Patroller between two humble homes, and immediately jump to the conclusion that it is Peron. 

However, by the time I reach the first red clay home, the dark figure is gone. I scowl, cussing to myself for being too late. 

I push my legs to go faster, following in the direction I know the Patroller went. The pathway becomes twisted, entangled in a jumbled mess with several others. It only takes a few wrong turns to end up completely lost and disoriented. 

With only a vague idea of which way to go, I’m about to admit defeat and return home, to maybe try and sleep. Exhaustion plagued me, and my movements are slow as I attempt to pinpoint the direction I came from. I end up spinning around in circles for a full minute, before finally closing a direction at random and setting off. 

“Excuse me, miss?” I spin around, squinting into the darkness. My heart just about leap from my chest when I catch a glimpse of a Street Patroller, it could be Peron, or it might not. I turn in sharply, watching for any changes in features. 

“P-please help me!” I shout, attempting to draw the Patroller nearer. He takes a couple tentative steps forward. “I’m lost! It’s dark, and I can’t find my way home, I have no idea where to go! Please, you have to help me find my way home! C-can you do that? Help me get home?” 

“You need to calm down, miss.” The guard steps forward once more, clearly buying the distraught rambling, which means it has served its purpose. I continue to monitor him closely, but see no signs of any changes. Not even a subtle shift in the shades of his eyes, or a simple switch of the colour of his hair. He draws closer still, deciding I am not of any danger to him. For once, I am not. I have something to accomplish, and as elation’s as a fight would be, the timing is utterly impractical. 

“I need to get home.” I stretch my eyes wide, mimicking an expression of fear with surprising accuracy, as I see the Patroller’s stern expression soften. 

“My name is Ruwad, I’m going to help you find your way home.” 

I do my best to conceal my disappointment and annoyance. Unsure where to go from here, I freeze for a moment while my brain attempts to fabricate a lie to get me out of here. From experience, spending too long in the company of a Patroller never ends well. 

“Do you know of a Patroller named Peron?” I ask, still wearing my guise of innocence. The next words taste like poison as they leave my tongue. “He’s a good friend of mine, if y-you know what I mean.” 

“I see,” Ruwad responds with a grin. “Yes, I know Peron. Saying that, I feel I’m obliged to let you know he has a rather long list of... ‘friends.’”

“Yeah, whatever,” I answer distractedly, reflecting on how the fake stammer was a nice touch, enhancing my appearance of weakness. For once, I want to be seen as unthreatening, and I am thankful for the cover of darkness and my cloak. “Do you know where I could find him? He will take me home, I’d hate to be too much of a bother for you.” 

“It’s no bother, miss,” he declares half-heartedly. “But I will certainly help you find Peron. Last I saw him, he was a few streets over, walking towards the Rich District in the distance.” 

“Thank you!” I shout over me shoulder, already taking off. The Patroller gives a slight nod. 

“Best of luck. If you can’t find him, I’ll likely still be ‘round here somewhere.” 

Ruwad’s words are already fading behind me by the time it crosses my mind to acknowledge them, with the briefest tip off my head. A simple, yet efficient, way to thank him for his help. My gut immediately clenches in anger when I imagine how he would have acted if he’d known I was Cursed. 

I once heard someone say ‘fear is the maker of hatred,’ and to this day those words ring true. If the Cursed weren’t feared, there would be little reason to hate us. So why are we regarded with such fear, viewed as something other than human? The question is unanswerable, as the answer varies with each person. They all have their unique reasons, their petty grievances that they cling to desperately. Maybe we are other than human, because I could never quite understand the human mind. 

All this is running through my head as I chase the direction Peron supposedly went. I’m caught up in my own thoughts, I don’t think about what to say when I finally do find him. 

It’s by chance, really, that I don’t ram head first into a house. I’m staring devotedly at my feet, captivated by the blur of black boots against the grey stone. 

When I do glance up, I catch a glimpse of a black shadow rounding a corner. So quick of a flash I can almost convince myself I imagined it, and that I should go home. Quit while I’m ahead. My feet do the opposite, speeding up until I’m slinging around the corner myself, eyes glued to the faint smudge of darkness against a backdrop of soot-coloured shadows. 

He—I’m taking a leap of faith, assuming the smudge is indeed Peron—walks at a languid, ambling pace. In a flutter of pattering footsteps, I have almost caught up to him. With no witty words at the ready, I let impulse take over. 

“Hey!” I call, freezing when he whirls around, and I am glared at by a pair of mismatched eyes. One silvery grey, one russet brown. They blink, and suddenly both eyes are grey. I draw in a sharp breath, letting it out in a huff. This must be Peron, after all. “Remember me?”

“I think I do.” He turns his head to the side slightly, studying me, tapping his foot against the stone in a rather pestering rhythm. I’d almost say he was doing it simply for the purpose of irking me. “I certainly wish I didn’t, though.” 

“Let’s skip the small talk,” I spit, curling my lip in discontentment. “I’m more the type to get straight to business.” 

“And what business is this, if I dare to ask?” 

“I know some people who are in Isolation right now, and I need someone like you to tell me where exactly they are.” I fold my arms, setting my feet shoulder width apart and pulling down the hood of my cloak, letting locks of my hair fall out. It glints at the corners of my vision like cascades of liquid mercury, the small gesture clearly serving its purpose when Peron gulps. He knows I’m Cursed, and he knows that I know he is too. 

“There’s nothing you can possibly do to me to make me possibly want to help you,” he declares venomously, cheeks flushing as adrenaline begins to pound through his system. 

“Oh, but there is.” I smirk, delighted with my own cunning. “You see, I know the right people to tell you’re little secret to. Also, before you try and use this same tactic in me, I’d like to issue a friendly reminder that you’ve got a long ways to fall, while I am already on the very bottom.” 

“I’m not doing anything for you, and certainly not this,” he mumbles, suddenly going pale as a ghost. His Illusion of confidence is crumbling, and he’s locked in the debate of wether or not he should abandon his pride and scramble for the shards and fragments. I can tell his resolve is weakened, and with a few well-worded threats, I can get him in the palm of my hand. 

“Think about it. You’d throw away you’re life for pure stubbornness? They’d find some way to send you to Isolation, they’d ruin everything you’ve worked for.” I pause, a blood-curdling smile creeping its way across my lips. “That is, if you live long enough for that to happen.” 

“You are ruthless,” he snarls, attempting to tear away some of the ice in my veins. I only laugh, a bitter and callous sound. 

“I know. It gets me what I want.” It gets me my friends back. 

“Go to the Law Office. I’m sure someone like you knows exactly where it is. Go there, and tell them Peron sent you. Use one of the computers to get the information you need,” he instructs with a sigh, before handing me a key. “Use this to get on. If anyone gives you any trouble, tell them to contact me and I’ll let them know I gave you my permission.” 

“What’s a computer?” I ask with a frown, to which Peron shakes his head. 

“They’re flat rectangles. All sides should be made of metal, except one, which will light up and show you what you need once you use the key.” The hasty explanation will have to do, as I’ve already accepted the key and begun to back off. Peron says nothing else, but his eyes never leave my area until I’ve faded from view, maybe even after. 

The Law Office is a good distance away, and I barely have the energy to put one door in front of the other. Any moment now, the lights will begin to brighten and my time will have slipped away. 

I launch myself into a sprint, stretching my stride so as to cover the most distance possible. My muscles burn and down my lungs ache, yet I push through it. Losing game myself in the familiar rhythm, I vault myself up onto the rooftops. The sensation of being suspended—even if only for a moment—with nothing but empty air to save me from a fate of slamming against stone is exhilarating. It empties my mind of every trepidation, replacing fear with the primal glory of rage and adrenaline. 

I drop down a few buildings away from the Law Office, tugging my hood up once again and tucking my hairier out of sight. Already, the lights have grown brighter, reminding me how long it’s been since I got a restful sleep. I yawn, before slamming my jaw tightly shut and putting on a steely mask. I’m ready.

The doors to the Law Office are now even more imposing, but I refuse to let them daunt me. With one certain push I fling them open, stepping inside and straightening my posture when six sets of eyes snapped to me. 

“I was sent by Peron to use a... ‘computer.’” I hold up the key as my proof, analyzing each set of narrowed eyes. All normal colours, all normal faces. I am the only Cursed within these walls, which makes it vital no one discovers my dirty little secret. When a man steps to his feet, my legs instinctively tense as I prepare to run. 

“Peron sent you?” he asks, skepticism written plain across his brutish, unappealing face. I nod my head confidently yes.

“He told you to contact him if you don’t believe me,” I state, feeling a blinding flash of relief when he finally nods. I relax slightly, though not completely. If I have learned anything from life up until now, it’s that being on guard is a tremendous advantage. 

“Fine. I’ll take you to the computers, but remind him he still owes me money from last time I let one of his girls down here.” 

A hatch in the floor is yanked open, revealing a ladder leading down into a chamber of inky darkness. With a flick of his hand, lights are illuminated and the space is filled with blue glow. 

“Thank you,” I nod, dropping down into the ladder. In a flurry of sloppy movements I’m down, swimming through the sapphire-toned haze. The flat rectangles are all lined up on a table, with chairs stationed in front of them. The whole set up is made from metal, which glitters cruelty in the blue glow. 

I glide over to the nearest computer, inserting the key into a small slot and hoping I’ve got the right place. It slides it easily, and I yank it leftwards, turning the lock. 

The box in front of me immediately flares to light, blinking on and off for a minute or two before finally calming. The screen is a brilliant shade of sapphire, and I find myself wondering how they power these machines. 

On the screen is a jumbled mass of names, numbers and symbols I can’t identify. When a flash of light suddenly leaps towards me, I jump, sinking low in the chair and glancing longingly towards the exit. I gently close my eyes and will myself to relax. The computer terrifies me, I cannot even begin to wrap my head around how it works, and as a result my whole body is tense and on-edge. 

Slowly, I turn back around to face the screen. It no longer flashes or babbles nonsense, but gently pulses with the words what do you need? hovering in the centre. 

I look down at the table, where the flash of light had appeared to land. Squares sit atop the metal, glistening with aquamarine energy, each filled by a letter. I reach a tentative hand forward, tapping on the letter f. At first, nothing happens. To my finger, it feels only like tapping on the metal table, hard and cool beneath my gloved fingertip. I glance back up at the computer, where the words have been replaced by a single letter f. 

I bite my lip thoughtfully. The computer must act like an artificial person, and all I need to do in order to operate it is type out what I want. The information I need is stored within its mind, and unlike a real person, it will obey my command when I ask it to give it to me. Thee assumption is a long shot, but it’s the best I can come up with. 

It takes a while to get the knack of tapping the letters. If I don’t hit it them in the exact centre, nothing happens and I have to start over. It takes a good ten minutes, but I eventually get the sentence I’d been trying so hard to structure completed. Find Noko, Katpin, Jasma and Fenly. It pulses on the screen for a few seconds, the glow brightening, before vanishing. 

A long strand of information replaces it, and I carefully scan for what I need. It gives long backstories on each of them, but at the bottom it declares incarcerated: Isolation

The information is sucked away in the blink of an eye, replaced with the question do you want to view cell numbers or return to info? I quickly type in cell numbers, watching the mesmerizing pulsation and hum of the machine. It flashes brightly once, before the handful of words I’d been seeking appear. 

Noko: Cell 36, hallway 1

Katpin: Cell 37, hallway 1

Jasma: Cell 234, hallway 3

Fenly: Cell 68, hallway 5

The list of names and numbers is on the screen for all but a moment before everything goes vanished and the machine dims to only a faint emittance of watery light. The typing pad remains just as bright, however it appears much more now in contrast. It shimmers faintly, enticing me. I tap on a couple letters, sourly disappointed when nothing out of the ordinary happens. Nothing appears on screen, and it doesn’t grow brighter.

After a few minutes of insistent tapping, the computer flashes read and a loud bell pierced the room, seemingly emanating from the machine. The screen flashes a handful of times, now boasting the words initial session expired, please enter password. 

With a groan, I wrench the key free and head back to the exit, clambering up the ladder with minimal effort. Annoyance hazes over my vision, and I hastily slap the key down on one of the tables, next to a Patroller. He takes it off the table, turning it over in his hands, before laying it back down. 

“That belongs to Peron,” I declare, before taking my leave. The names and cell numbers flash in my mind, with no way for me to record them but memory. 

Once outside, I realize the lights have slowly began their climb back to brightness. When they fall after a few long hours, they will brighten again to the first time a citizen of Isolation actually attempted to break in to Isolation. The prison smothers and chokes all traces of hope, both in those incarcerated and the friends and family they leave behind.  No one has ever attempted to free prisoners, and no prisoners have even thought about freeing them themselves, beyond fevered daydreams. 

Haven is a twisted place, the words echo through my head, a phrase I’ve heard a thousand times before. Though a civilization is only as good as its ruler. 

When I was but I child, I accompanied my mother on a trip to the Governor’s house. He resides at the centre of the Rich Districts, with the biggest house of them all, from where he effortlessly shapes Haven. She was more scientist than madwoman then, her obsession with the Topside nothing but a mild curiosity. 

She was proposing to the Governor a new way to punish and regulate the Cursed, a method she viewed as more humane than locking them all in catacombs and leaving them there to rot. Her proposal meant nothing to me at the time, but now I realize she was attempting to protect me as best as she could. What she was suggesting was a machine which rendered the Cursed useless. Not a cure, not like the Remedy raved about by Ridser, but a temporary way to mute the unique abilities of the Cursed. She called it a Silencer. 

The Governor spat in her face and kicked her out, having his guards smash her invention. He said she was a disgrace for bearing a Cursed child, more so for bringing it there, and even worse for trying to find a way to ease or lessen the suffering of the Cursed. 

Haven was meant to be a sanctuary, with no lines drawn to decide people. The Governor payed no heed to the ancient decrees, making a world where Haven is fraught with hatred and animosity. Very few dare mention his name, as they blame him for every detail of this city which upsets them. For the most part, they’re right. Corruption at the head of the city can only breed friction and woes within

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